When I heard chirping coming from the hot-wired fire/carbon monoxide alarm in the basement, I didn’t panic. I figured it was an anomaly caused by the brutally cold temperature and fifty-mile-an-hour winds outside, and I reset the alarm. However, when it happened again, I grabbed my coat, went outside, and called the fire department. Within moments, four firefighters were on the scene. Despite being masked up for Covid-19, I could tell these were fine looking men. They bounded down to the basement, checked things out with a carbon monoxide meter, and assured me there was no leak. Then they did a sweep of my whole house. The conclusion: it was time to replace the basement alarm. I thanked them profusely and they were on their way.
What can I say about firefighters that hasn’t already been said? That the hunky firemen stereotype is founded in reality. That they are superheroes who wear over fifty pounds of gear instead of tights and a cape. That they risk their lives by running into burning buildings to save total strangers.
I do have something else that needs to be said.
Recently, the term “long haulers” has been given to those who contracted Covid-19 and, months later, suffer lingering health problems. They are getting much media attention and my sympathy and good wishes go out to them. But there’s another group of long haulers out there – the firefighters who struggle with lung and cardiovascular disease and battle cancer as a result of their exposure at Ground Zero in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001. Why no mention of them? In less than six months, our nation will mark the twentieth anniversary of that horrible day and, along with it, two decades of suffering.
Most New Yorkers could tell you that 343 firefighters perished on September 11th. But they may not be aware that at least 241 firefighters have since died from illnesses linked to exposure at Ground Zero. Sadly, dear friends of mine have lost two brothers this way. One passed away four years ago, the other four weeks ago. These men were New York’s Bravest, even in the long haul. They will remain in the hearts of their family, their friends, and their community forever. And the best way we can honor them is to never forget.